[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Arch Cru Compensation Scheme

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 19th October 2011.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(M r Dunne .)

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy) 9:30 am, 19th October 2011

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Owen, in what is an important debate. Since it was announced last week, a number of hon. Members have spoken to me about the issue, and I am far from alone in having received e-mails, correspondence and surgery visits from people who have been affected by the collapse of the Arch Cru investment fund. I am pleased that the Minister is present to respond to the debate. I know from previous debates that he has a reputation for seeking to answer questions as fully as possible, and I hope that he will continue to do so today. In recognition of his reputation in that regard, and given the high number of Members present who wish to speak or intervene, I will keep my remarks as brief as I can to give the Minister the maximum time possible to respond. I also wish to recognise the efforts made by Alun Cairns who is present for the debate. He has been trying valiantly for some time to secure a parliamentary debate on Arch Cru, but it was my fortune that my name happened to be picked. I know that he will contribute to the debate in due course.

Many hon. Members are familiar with aspects of the background that led to the collapse of Arch Cru, but some salient points bear repetition. Arch Cru was established in 2006 to provide low-risk, cautiously managed funds that were sold through independent financial advisers and, like all investment funds in the UK, were regulated by the Financial Services Authority. The authorised corporate director was Capita Financial Managers Ltd, part of the listed Capita group. The two depositories of the funds were Bank of New York Mellon and HSBC. Having spoken to a number of investors and financial advisers over recent weeks, I am in no doubt that the association of those names with the fund lent credibility and provided a degree of comfort for many investors. Approximately 20,000 people invested in Arch Cru, many of whom were small investors who invested retirement savings or lump sum pension payments into the fund, following advice from financial advisers. Those to whom I have spoken invested on the basis that since it involved their retirement pots, funds needed to be cautiously invested. That was the attraction and the reason for their investment.

The fund was suspended in March 2009 by the FSA following a warning that it was insolvent. At that time it was worth a total of £363.6 million but since then—unsurprisingly—the value has fallen and at the most recent evaluation in March 2011, the fund was valued at £148.8 million. Estimates vary but between 4,000 and 10,000 people suffered losses following the collapse of that fund. Many of those people never expected to be in such a position because they were attracted to the low-risk, cautiously managed fund in which they invested. This is not a tale of a get-rich-quick scheme gone wrong, or of a high-risk, high-return investment vehicle. It is a story of thousands of people who were advised to invest savings for their retirement precisely because the fund was categorised as cautiously managed. As we now know, the reality was somewhat different. Far from being cautiously managed, funds were invested via Guernsey cells in what some would argue was a high-risk and cavalier manner. Investments included property in Dubai, Greek shipping and ferries.

My constituents—and, I am sure, those of other Members—have questions that fall within four key areas. First is the role of Capita Financial Managers which, as I have stated, was the authorised corporate director with responsibility for providing assurance that the fund was operating correctly. It sold its services as a hosting solution. I have some of its marketing material with me that states:

“For investment managers looking to manage current assets with authorised fund structures there exists an alternative to establishing your own unit, trust manager or authorised corporate director…Capita offers a ‘hosting’ solution which enables investment managers to focus on investment activities. In this arrangement Capita Financial group becomes the authorised entity by the Financial Services Authority and thereby undertakes the management company function on your behalf, delivering comprehensive administrative and investment servicing and support to your funds.”

That is how Capita sold its services. It is an outsourcing group.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. The research papers we have received state that investors were

“sucked into the funds by some of the slickest marketing ever put together in financial services. Marketing so good, in fact, that it bamboozled many good independent financial advisers”.

People will lose 30% or 40% of their money. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is unacceptable and that it was a sham from start to finish?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman and I will go on to develop the point about marketing to independent financial advisers.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

A number of my constituents have written to me voicing their concern about this issue. Does my hon. Friend think that there should be an urgent inquiry into the matter? On the basis of what he has just said, the situation is more serious than a lot of people realised.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I agree with my hon. Friend and I will make some of those points later in my remarks. We are only at the beginning of uncovering what went on, and the situation is worrying for many other funds. There are also questions for regulators that I will go on to address.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way he presents the subject under discussion and on securing the debate. The fact that MPs from all four nations of the UK and five political parties are present indicates how widespread the problem is throughout the country.

We clearly need an inquiry and to find out what has been going on. We do not want a repeat of the Equitable Life saga when it took 10 or 15 years before people got sight of any money. We need an inquiry, but we also need action by regulators and the Government to try and help people who, as my hon. Friend pointed out, in many cases made what they believed to be a low-risk investment for their later years. They will not be able to wait 10 or 15 years.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that people get their money and that they get it in the right way. I will make that point later in my contribution. Capita is an outsourcing group. The structure works so that Capita assumes a legal responsibility for the assets and subcontracts management back to the fund house. It is effectively an outsourcing operation.

While preparing for this debate I had the opportunity to speak to some individuals who used to work for Capita. What they told me shocked and appalled me. I was told that there was relatively little oversight over funds in Capita Financial Managers, and that there was a small team of people, a high staff turnover, and lots of relatively young and inexperienced staff who worked for over 300 funds at the same time. One individual who previously worked for Capita told me that Capita was

“not the best managed firm and the compliance culture left a lot to be desired. Capita is not particularly well respected in the industry and it is no surprise to me that they found themselves in trouble.”

Those remarks contrast greatly with the way that many people viewed Capita on the basis of their investments. Capita is a household name that for many people has a degree of respectability. People made their investment decisions partly because Capita’s name was attached to that investment.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

Capita is also international. How much power might we have over Capita if it spreads to New York and other places?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that Capita group is involved in a range of businesses across the world. Capita Financial Managers, however, was regulated by the FSA and was supposedly in a position to provide assurance in this case. That is where questions need to be asked.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that whatever management inadequacies there may have been in Capita, it was regulated by the FSA. It oversaw what was supposed to be a prudently managed fund. Money was being put into totally illiquid assets and very dodgy assets, yet that was never identified. Was there not a regulatory failure in that regard?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I want to come on to the role of the FSA as the regulator and I particularly want the Minister to respond on the potential role of the Financial Conduct Authority in the future as the FSA is wound up.

Photo of Iain McKenzie Iain McKenzie Labour, Inverclyde

Does my hon. Friend agree that Capita needs to step up to its responsibilities? What it is offering in compensation is derogatory to the people who have lost their life savings. It needs to step up to its responsibilities and offer 100% compensation.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I want to come on to the inadequacy of the payment deal—it is not a compensation deal—on the table at present, because there are serious questions to ask about that as well.

If what I have set out was Capita’s reputation among some in the industry, it is perhaps not surprising that Capita appears not to have known about the activity of the sub-funds investing in the very high-risk activity via the Guernsey cells; that Capita appears not to have been aware of the illiquidity in the fund by 2008; and that Capita appears not to have provided a proper sign-off for the accounts. I say “appear” because we do not know for certain the detail of the failings, because the FSA, in correspondence that it has copied to Members of Parliament, says that it is unable to provide details of its investigations.

Suffice it to say that those independent financial advisers who trusted the Capita brand worked on the basis of the CF Arch Cru marketing material, which Capita would have had responsibility for signing off and copies of which I have with me. It includes material headed “Going Well” from November 2008, by which time the FSA had, we know, started looking into Arch Cru. There is also a weekly update from 9 March 2009—four days before suspension of the fund. In approving tones, it boasts of cumulative decline year to year of 2.6% compared with double digit falls in most major traditional public asset houses. It says that all its UK funds retain a top five rank in their category. Those statements were issued to financial advisers just four days before the fund was suspended.

In addition to that type of material, the chief executive of Capita Finance Managers, Chris Addenbrooke, in Investment Adviser in September 2008, said:

“We’ve got the credibility to take on the ACD”— authorised corporate director—

“role. Our clients see that as attractive.”

Given that material and comments such as that, there is no doubt that people thought that they were investing in something that was very different from what it turned out to be. It is apparent that at the very least there were serious shortcomings in the role of Capita as the ACD.

Secondly, there is the role of the FSA. Earlier this week, I spent some time with representatives of the FSA, discussing Arch Cru, and I am grateful for their time and their engagement in seeking to answer some of my questions, but serious questions remain for the FSA to answer. It was statutorily responsible for regulating Capita Financial Managers. Why did it not know or not appear to know what was happening with Arch Cru? I also spoke to people who had previously worked for the FSA. They said that the ARROW—advanced, risk-responsive operating framework—visit was not until late 2008 and that was not atypical given the risk matrix, which would have meant that the likely ARROW visits would have taken place only every 18 months approximately. I understand and accept that this matter can be complex.

Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot

Is the hon. Gentleman making the point that this is not simply a matter of what the FSA did and whether it did it appropriately, inappropriately, negligently or otherwise, and that there was something fundamentally wrong with the processes of the regulatory regime that was operating at the time?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. There are two points: a point about what the FSA did in relation to Arch Cru, and a further point about the regulatory regime. As I said, with the FCA about to be set up, there is an important issue for the Government to deal with in that regard as well.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

I congratulate my hon. Friend on obtaining the debate and on the forensic and effective way in which he is presenting a very important case, which affects my constituents as it does others. Does it not pass all understanding how the FSA could have said on 21 June in its statement that it “considers that this package”—the £54 million package—

“is a fair and reasonable outcome, which is in the best interests of investors” when it is not fair, not reasonable and clearly not in the best interests of investors?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend. I hope to make a couple of remarks about that package in a few moments.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, National Policy Statements Sub-Committee

May I return to the point that was made a moment ago? Does it not appear that the structure set up for Arch Cru was designed to ensure that the FSA did not notice what was going on, although the setting up of the structure should have been noticed by the FSA and picked up at an earlier stage?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. When I spent some time with representatives of the FSA, they showed me a diagram of the structure of the fund and it was amazing to see quite how labyrinthine it was and is. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that that is the root of part of the problems. At the same time, seeking to say, “Well, that’s the responsibility of the Guernsey regulator. That’s the responsibility of someone else,” does not deal with the central issue. That is the lesson for the future that we need to be conscious of.

Photo of Fiona O'Donnell Fiona O'Donnell Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. Although it is welcome to see cross-party support today for the investors who are innocent victims of absolutely disgraceful behaviour by Capita, will my hon. Friend seek an assurance from the Government that their red tape challenge will not get in the way of effective regulation of this sector to prevent other people from losing out in the way in which the Arch Cru investors have?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I am sure that the Minister heard her entreaty. I agree with her that in seeking to ensure that the regulation is right, there is a great danger in looking to light-touch regulation. The consequence of that could well be the position that we find ourselves debating this morning. I am sure that the Minister will take that warning on board.

The third issue is the payment scheme negotiated by the FSA from Capita, HSBC and BNY Mellon. As everyone knows, they are careful to say that that deal is not an admission of liability. The FSA says and has said to investors that it is a “reasonable outcome” for them. It says that it saves time, given that a breach does not have to be proved in what the background note describes as a very complex case, involving multiple parties with different responsibilities. It says that it considered that it was appropriate to align the Financial Ombudsman Service decision making with the payment scheme rules.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. It is nothing less than a scandal that hard-working people are being treated in this way. They are suffering anxiety and concern when all they wanted to do was to secure their future. Two of my constituents have written to me to say this:

“Would it be possible for you to support a request for a Section 14 enquiry under the Financial Services Act? This will provide the best opportunity for all investors to receive an improved compensation package.”

I would welcome my hon. Friend’s view on that. Clearly, I would support such an inquiry if it could deliver an improved compensation package, because the concern and anxiety that people are suffering is terrible. Listening to what they have to say is heart-rending.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I agree with him and will go on to ask the Minister—I am sure that he is expecting this—for a section 14 inquiry and for him to explain why one has not been instituted so far.

To me and to many of the investors, the deal brokered by the FSA—the payment scheme—sounds like an admission of defeat. They cannot work out what went wrong and why.

Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Conservative, South Derbyshire

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the sterling work that he has done, along with my hon. Friend Alun Cairns, to bring this matter to the fore. I am delighted that it is my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who is here to answer questions. What the 15 people in South Derbyshire who have written to me about the matter have experienced is heartbreaking. They thought that they were doing the right thing, but they have been presented with this letter by the FSA saying, “Take it or leave it—70%. You’re lucky to be getting something quickly.” Is that really how we should play the financial game? Perhaps there should be a bigger inquiry into the way the FSA has been carrying out its duties?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. That all points to the case for a section 14 investigation to get to the bottom of these events and to prevent them from ever happening again.

To return to the payment scheme, it sounds like the FSA cannot work out what went wrong and why, and where the liability was.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

My constituent Linda Marsh is particularly exercised by the fact that she is being pressured to accept the payment offer on the table because of the looming

November deadline. Is it not really urgent that we remove that deadline and allow a proper inquiry to take place?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She makes an important point about people being able to make the right decision when they are offered this payment deal, particularly given that it seems to bind in the Financial Ombudsman Service in a way that makes it impossible for it to take a case subsequently. My hon. Friend makes an important point.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance, Belfast East

On that point, one of the concerns raised by constituents who have come to me is that the compensation offer is conditional and precludes legal action against Capita being brought to court by any investor who accepts it. However, it leaves open the option of the investor pursuing the financial advisers, who were, as Members have rightly said, misled by the information provided to them. That seems a very unjust transfer of responsibility.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

The hon. Lady is exactly right. It is almost as though the deal that has been reached leaves the liability with people who have, as she said, been misled, with the result that they end up carrying the can, which would be very unfair. That is why the deal on the table is wholly inadequate, and I will go on to make a few points about that.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow North

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is inappropriate, given that such serious regulatory failures have been identified in this crisis, for the FSA to be so directly involved in the negotiations and the settlement being offered? The FSA lacks the appropriate independence, because it might be to its advantage for the settlement not to result in legal action and further inquiry.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I thank my hon. Friend, who makes an important point, which goes to the heart of this issue—the role of the FSA as the regulator and, it seems, the broker of a deal that might help to get something off its back.

It seems the FSA cannot work out what happened. It wants a line to be drawn under this issue, but thousands of unhappy people expected the regulator to prevent this abuse from happening. The FSA has said that the deal will return to investors approximately or up to 70% of their investment, and the words “up to” are quite significant. That 70% is based on the £54 million that has been returned already, £149 million from the sale of other assets, which were valued at that level at 31 March 2011, and an additional £54 million, which Capita, HSBC and BNY Mellon agreed to without accepting liability in a deal brokered by the FSA. However, that £149 million might well not be realised, especially when we consider that the asset base included Greek shipping and what have been described to me as rust-bucket ferries, as well as middle eastern property, the value of which—if there is any left at all—could have fallen, even in the short time since March, given the current economic conditions.

The question I put to the FSA—it was entirely reasonable, but the FSA was unable to answer it—was why it did not add up the asset sales and projected asset sales and subtract them from the investors’ losses to give a figure that would make the compensation up to 100% of what people invested. In that way, people could get their money back; they would not make a profit, but simply get back what they invested, based on the assurances they were given by an organisation that was regulated by the FSA when they took out their investment.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

One thing that has come to my attention through my constituents is that the FSA has given advice to investors pushing them towards independent legal advice. Some of that legal advice has led to further complications and added to the money they had already lost. Does the hon. Gentleman feel the direction the FSA pushed investors in should be addressed, given the extra heartache and money losses they have experienced as a result of seeking legal advice that has turned out to be wrong?

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do not wish to get drawn into the background dispute between people who have paid into a class action legal fund and people involved in a different action group on behalf of investors. To be frank, I have spoken for far longer than I intended, and I want to give others the chance to get in. There are lots of complicated issues, and I want to focus on the compensation scheme before I draw my remarks to a conclusion. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The approach I have suggested would simply enable people to get their money back—to get up to 100%. This case has been described as one of the worst investment scandals of recent years. There was a similar scandal under the FSA’s predecessor, the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation, and the name Peter Young will mean something to many people here. The relationships and problems involved were broadly similar, but following the suspension of the fund in question in 1996, IMRO achieved a settlement whereby people got their money back. The deal was funded by Morgan Grenfell, which was broadly in the same position as Capita.

That settlement was agreed three months after suspension. Although IMRO took action against the chief executive of the fund manager, the offer was not paid until January 1999—two years and four months after suspension. In the case of Arch Cru, however, it is now two years and eight months since suspension, and only now are letters starting to go out to people with the payment offer—I understand that they are going out now or will be going out in the next couple of weeks. Why was the FSA unable to get close to the resolution achieved by its predecessor as regulator in a similar time frame? Why is up to 70% acceptable to the FSA, when IMRO managed to get 100%?

Fourthly, there is the issue of ensuring that these events do not happen again. Something needs to change if these things are not to happen again, and people who invest their retirement nest eggs or lump sums on the basis of being told that a fund invests cautiously are not to lose their money, not to have to battle through the press to get a hearing, not to have to get a debate in Parliament so that issues can be aired and not to experience the stress, anxiety and rank unfairness of losing their money in a high-risk gamble they were told was a cautious investment.

In this regard, the FSA is about to be replaced by the Financial Conduct Authority, and the relevant proposals are beginning their pre-legislative scrutiny. What will be put in place to enable the FCA to prevent something similar from happening again? All of us, including the Government, have an opportunity to get the proposals right, and that is why these issues are a matter for the Minister and the Government. The Minister and the Treasury correspondence unit have been clear that this affair is a matter for the regulator, not them, but when the ACD fails, the regulator admits it did not know what was happening because of the structure of an investment vehicle, and the basis of a payment offer is so woefully inadequate, these things become a matter for the Minister; it becomes the Government’s responsibility to prevent or minimise the risk of such things ever happening again.

It also becomes a matter of my constituents and those of other Members present being entitled to information, but the FSA and others are not releasing much information. That is why I am putting the questions to the Minister today. Does he believe that Capita fulfilled its role effectively? Does he accept that the FSA has been hampered in fulfilling its role as regulator by its structure? Does he understand that in not providing information, there is suspicion among the investors? Does he realise that on that basis, up to 70% is just not good enough? Does he now know that the FCA needs to be bolstered for the future? Given all the above, will he now ensure that there is a section 14 investigation into what went on with Arch Cru?

I have spoken for far longer than I had intended, so I will conclude. It is easy, when looking into the matter, as I have done over the past few weeks, to get into the details and get lost in the technicalities and minutiae of the regulatory regime, and in the reputations of blue-chip companies, the statements of their chief executives and other individuals, and even the reputations of some of those in high-profile positions in the investment fund. Ultimately, the matter is about people—people such as my constituent Mr Pringle of Cambuslang, whom I have been in correspondence with. He e-mailed me yesterday and asked me to include a final point in the debate, which I will conclude on. He said that

“my wife…and I invested all our pension money with the Cru in this ‘Low Risk’ venture. Being pension money we obviously did not want any high risk ventures that would put our money at risk…We are extremely disappointed in the FSA’s attitude towards this case, by saying that they think Capita’s offer is ‘Fair and Reasonable’. Not in any way is their offer ‘Fair and Reasonable’. Investing in Greek Shipping is not ‘Low Risk’!”

That is the crux of the issue. That is why it is a matter for the Government as well as the regulator, and that is why the Minister needs to respond to the debate this morning.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan 10:01 am, 19th October 2011

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I want to congratulate and pay tribute to Tom Greatrex on securing the debate and on the way in which he introduced it. He set an absolutely right tone to try to uncover the scandal and seek justice for many innocent investors.

This debate is the first opportunity to air serious issues that have cost some 20,000 people significant sums in respect of a fund once valued at £400 million. The title of the debate relates to the compensation scheme, which is the obvious priority of investors. However, there is also a need to interrogate the background, which raises questions about the scale, source, timing and conditions of the scheme.

The investors’ starting point in the financial scandal was to receive and consider advice from their independent financial adviser. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, the funds were clearly advertised and marketed as cautious managed. That would have sounded reasonable and fitted the risk profile of many private investors across the country.

Photo of Jonathan Evans Jonathan Evans Conservative, Cardiff North

May I be the first on this side of the Chamber to pay credit to my hon. Friend for his tenacity in assisting people in bringing this matter before the House?

The point that my hon. Friend is making specifically relates to the decision made by investors. I have constituents who have invested, including one who wrote to me only yesterday to tell me that he invested £120,000—the totality of his pensions and savings—primarily because he wanted to be in cautious-managed funds that were safe. That highlights the regulatory failure to which my hon. Friend is alluding.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

The cautious-managed issue is a common theme throughout regarding the Arch Cru funds. Cautious managed, from my time in financial services, would be argued as an investment category that fits the majority of people across the United Kingdom. However, investigation shows that the Financial Services Authority does not regulate the risk classification of funds, which is assessed by the Investment Management Association. I find that staggering, considering that that is a fundamental element in the decision-making process of any investor. The IMA is merely an industry managers’ representative body. The FSA has told me that classification is not a regulated activity, so it does not have the powers to amend the classification of funds. However, the FSA needs to be reminded of its statutory objectives, specifically the one relating to maintaining market confidence.

The reality of the investment was that it was not cautious managed. The open-ended investment company invested in unconventional investments, as we have heard. Cell companies were formed and floated on the Guernsey stock exchange, investing in private equity and shipping loans, among other high-risk transactions. As that was a recognised exchange, it circumvented the FSA radar, although FSA rules banned such illiquid investments in open-ended funds. Therefore, it was no surprise that in March 2009, almost three years after they were launched, the funds were suspended.

However, the situation is not that simple. The FSA identified issues with the funds in October and November 2008, but the funds were permitted to continue to trade. It conducted an advanced risk responsive operating framework test at the time, which should have highlighted the issues, particularly pricing concerns. Yet, the funds were only suspended four months later.

Capita became the authorised corporate director, and had failed to act. It had responsibility for corporate governance and daily pricing, and control over the underlying assets. It initially denied having control of the underlying assets, but the auditors’ report from Ernst and Young showed that it held more than 75% of the shares. I suggest that Capita mispriced the funds before suspension due to its failure to exercise control to value the underlying assets accurately. There was a breach of the investment mandate and a pursuit of a reckless investment strategy by Capita’s designated fund manager.

Clearly, that negligence led to Capita’s £54 million compensation offer—70% of the value of the funds at the time of suspension, together with the remaining assets from the valuation on 31 March. That has been criticised as unlikely to hold up. Investors are being asked to accept an offer without knowing what they will receive, as that depends on the value secured on the sale of the remaining assets, which will take years. That is an obvious disparity and injustice.

The auditor was Moore Stephens. It surely should have identified the issues, but it has still yet to offer any form of explanation, let alone compensation. The Guernsey regulators also have some explaining to do and have to accept their part of the responsibility and liability.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, National Policy Statements Sub-Committee

Does my hon. Friend know whether the FSA consulted the Guernsey authorities or sought their assistance at any stage?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

My right hon. Friend raises a good point. I have raised that issue with the FSA, which said that it was beyond its jurisdiction. However, to my mind, protecting UK investors is certainly its priority and should fall within its jurisdiction.

To date, there has been no explanation of the logic behind the £54 million offered, and the conditions are somewhat restrictive. Having recently met with the FSA, I know that the reasons behind the current delay concern third-party rights, which I understand. However, it has taken more than two and a half years from suspension to get to the current stage.

I have a constituent who invested several hundred thousand pounds of his retirement money into the funds, but there will be constituents of other hon. Members present who had invested far smaller sums, and which may be even more significant to them individually. A figure of 70% of the valuation at suspension is completely inappropriate, given that all that our constituents had done was to invest in a regulated, cautious-managed fund with a regulated, authorised corporate director and approved auditors. The delay conflicts with the timing of a possible legal challenge. Investors need to act soon to fall within the legal time frame set out by the courts.

In considering criticism of the FSA, it seems hardly just that, having failed in its responsibility to regulate, it has the responsibility to investigate and negotiate a compensation package for the people whom it failed in the first place.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The debate shows that we have a fund that was a scam and regulation that was a sham. We have a problem not just with the FSA’s dereliction of regulatory oversight, but with its deviance and connivance in the deed with Capita. This debate is an opportunity for Parliament to blow the whistle. The FSA is now blatantly offside, and surely it is up to the Minister and the Treasury to make it clear that the deed cannot stand and the deadline must not stand.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

The hon. Gentleman has made an extremely powerful point. This is the first debate on Arch Cru, and certainly on the FSA and its change to the successor bodies. Those who have responsibility for this matter need to bear in mind the strength of feeling among investors and the number of people who have turned up to this debate. This issue will not go away until investors feel that they have received justice.

The regulator, the Financial Services Authority, arguably failed in its duty as did the investigators and negotiators. Clearly, there was a position of conflict. It angers me that at every meeting and in every communication, the FSA points its finger at the independent financial advisers. In view of the FSA’s four strategy objectives, passing the buck to the IFAs is wholly inadequate. The pricing and fund performance would have been integral to the advice provided by any independent financial adviser.

In a meeting last week, the FSA told me that the obligation of suitability lies with the IFA. It is unrealistic for IFAs to have the capacity to interrogate individually all marketed funds, products and pricing strategies, or to speak to the financial directors and auditors of every firm on which they advise, when the FSA, with all its resources, failed to protect investors from wrongdoing in this respect.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Independent financial advisers may be being criticised, but is my hon. Friend not surprised that the Serious Fraud Office has not been more involved in this patently criminal investigation?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the role he has played in uncovering many of these issues. I will come on to the Serious Fraud Office in a moment.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s defence of the independent financial advisers. None the less, the only interface that many investors have is with an independent financial adviser. Is there not an obligation upon them at least to check out the funds on which they advise? Is there not some responsibility there?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

I am grateful for that valid point. Clearly, IFAs cannot be excluded from all responsibility, but we need to bear in mind the context in which they are working. If they are looking at the strategy and pricing of a fund classified as cautious managed, we need to recognise the context in which that advice is being given. Therefore, the failure of the FSA to set the right context in which an IFA can make recommendations is fundamental to the issue.

There is another conflict. The FSA regulates the authorised corporate directors and Capita acts as the authorised corporate director for more than 300 firms. Taking action against Capita could create difficulties, leading to panic in the marketplace. The FSA has powers under section 166 of the Financial Service and Markets Act 2000 to instigate an independent investigation into organisations that take such responsibilities. Will the Minister tell us whether any such action has been taken by the FSA?

The Arch Cru affair is a minefield of accusation and counter-claim. My hon. Friend Guy Opperman referred to the Serious Fraud Office. I was alarmed to discover that two of the three main directors or partners who established the Arch Cru funds—Robin Farrel1 and Robert Addison—are still operating, albeit under a new name of Arch Global. Allegations have been made to the Serious Fraud Office about how Arch funds were invested in a property company with common directors. Student accommodation was bought on the open market at one price, only to be sold to the Arch investors shortly afterwards for an inflated sum. I have no knowledge of whether or not those points are true, but they clearly need to be investigated.

As for compensation issues, the auditors and the Guernsey Financial Services Commission certainly need to be pursued by some authority, be it the FSA, the Minister or other parties.

Finally, in view of the FSA’s actions and the associated conflicts, I am troubled that section 404 of the 2000 Act can bind the financial services ombudsman to the FSA’s judgment on the level of compensation. The FSA has made its view of the 70% figure quite obvious in its statement. Therefore, even if investors seek to make a claim involving the financial services ombudsman, or if they follow other routes, the FSA can limit the compensation to 70% at a later stage.

Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham

Clearly, my constituents will wonder what the point of a financial services ombudsman is if they cannot seek redress through it to get a better deal than Capita is already offering.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He underlines the power of the FSA to limit compensation, rather than to uncover and to provide just compensation for people who have been ill-advised and ill-treated throughout this whole process.

These issues need to be reconsidered in an equitable way and without conflict.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the vital thing that needs to be done straight away is to lift the deadline so that people can make decisions, knowing that they are not throwing away some future interest? Will he also join me in saying to the Minister that, whatever direct powers the Government may or may not have, they do have the opportunity to call people together to say that the present situation is unfair and not right for investors? They need to find a way to make it possible for MPs, financial advisers and everyone else to say to investors, “This is what you should do now.”

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

That pragmatic and practical intervention would certainly set us on the right road to gaining justice for investors. The issue needs to be reconsidered in an equitable way and without conflict. The Minister and the Government should have the responsibility to bring together the various parties. Under section 14 of the 2000 Act, the Minister also has the power to launch a formal investigation, so that those with conflict are removed and the situation is judged objectively and properly. That will be the first step towards achieving justice for investors.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker Conservative, Worcester

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the points he is making. On the section 14 inquiry, does he not agree that one of the most important things is for investors and their financial advisers to be able to make an informed decision? An informed decision cannot be made until that inquiry has happened and the real bases of the problems and of any compensation have been set out in detail.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. When such problems are combined with questions about the legal time frame, investors who have experienced wrongdoing are in the unenviable position of making decisions about receiving compensation or pursuing it through the courts, without there being a thorough investigation of who is responsible.

I thank hon. Members for their support, and the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West for securing this debate. There will be many more such debates until justice is achieved for investors.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central 10:18 am, 19th October 2011

It is great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, and to follow Alun Cairns who, along with my hon. Friend Tom Greatrex, has pursued this matter with such dedication.

I rise to speak on behalf of my constituents who have been affected by this debacle, including Michael Sharkey, Ian Matthews and Donald Tart. They have invested not hundreds and thousands of pounds but smaller amounts, which are highly significant for their future standard of living. There is widespread concern, nay fury, among my constituents that they are seeing only up to 70% of the returns in this so-called £54 million funding package. In many circumstances, they face the loss of more than 40% of their investments. As we have heard, we are discussing people’s lives and money that people had worked hard for and put away for retirement or hoped to pass on to their children or grandchildren.

Of course, we will not know the full scale of the negligence involved and the real losses until all the remaining assets of the fund are eventually sold. However, private advice has conservatively estimated the losses in my constituency alone at around £1.5 million, which is a sizeable amount of money for my constituents, or to put it another way that is around 1.5% of the value of the contract recently awarded to Capita to run the national pension scheme. As the authorised corporate director for the Arch Cru investment fund, and therefore having the regulatory responsibility that we have heard so much about today, the Government might think about stepping back from giving Capita further powers and authorities. We have heard about the extraordinary negligence and even allegations of criminal activity involved in the running of these funds.

In June, I tabled 19 parliamentary questions to find out just how much business this Government have awarded to Capita. As of 3 August 2011, the Government had awarded 447 contracts worth at least £112 million to Capita. Sir Peter Bottomley has suggested that the Government have a role to play in bringing people to the table. I suggest that if someone is awarding £112 million-worth of contracts, they have a powerful role to play in bringing people to the table.

Photo of Jonathan Evans Jonathan Evans Conservative, Cardiff North

Has the hon. Gentleman done the research to help hon. Members understand how many contracts Capita received before 2010, under the previous Administration? My guess is that it would be a significant multiple of the figure that he has just given.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I was going to say that I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but he seemed to be making an unnecessarily partisan point when we are trying to work together for the good of our constituents. I will simply let it pass in that manner.

That figure of £112 million does not include contracts from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, contracts from the Ministry of Defence, which would only provide ranged values of contracts up to a total of £20.6 million and contracts awarded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, which simply did not answer my question. I hope that the Minister will seek out the truth himself.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one important aspect is what attitude the Government take? The second important point is that Capita and its shareholders ought to make a clear assessment of the reputational risk of Capita handling something where things clearly went wrong and of its failure to spot what was going wrong.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that what we are seeing this morning is the decimation of the reputation of Capita. That decimation will only grow unless Capita steps up to the plate, works with the Government and accepts that it is in its own long-term interest, as well as its moral obligation, to ensure that those who invested in this fund on the basis of Capita’s reputation see their payments returned.

I will not go through all the intricacies of my investigation into the awarding of contracts to Capita. Suffice to say that the Government have a whip hand on this issue and should be thinking about using it.

The point is that with financial products and investment opportunities becoming ever more complex, it is vital that investors have confidence in the regulatory framework that upholds their investment. It has been said that

“A badly designed product or a product that is widely mis-sold can have a negative effect on consumer outcomes and actually, over the long term, a negative effect on the industry. It doesn’t just affect the particular product or firm involved. It also erodes people’s confidence in financial services.”

As the Minister will know, those are not my words but his words.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (International Development)

The hon. Gentleman is making a crucial point about confidence. Although it is important that people have confidence in the independent financial adviser that they go to, and that they have confidence in whatever companies are operating under the different structures, surely the supreme amount of confidence must be placed in the regulatory authority that has to oversee all those things. That is the crucial point that the Minister must respond to.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. What we have seen with the Financial Services Authority is a lack of confidence in its capacity to deal with this inquiry and the regulation of it. That is why I join my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West in urging the Minister to take advantage of section 14 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to launch an inquiry, because the FSA has been silent on this matter for too long and as a result investors have little confidence in it. The FSA is part of the regulatory framework that initially failed our constituents.

I will wrap up now as I know that other hon. Members want to speak. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West that we are only at the beginning of this process. As I have said, we need the sort of inquiry allowed under section 14 of the 2000 Act. We also need a proper compensation deal and package, and I am struck by the 1996 Investment Management Regulatory Organisation model as a way of moving forward.

However, the Government have a role in this process. They are pouring money down the neck of Capita and for the Government to say that this issue is nothing to do with them strikes me and my constituents as remarkably detached and arrogant. Actually, the Government have a role to play in bringing people to the table, making Capita see sense and delivering justice for our constituents.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Before I call Guy Opperman, I remind Members that I will call the Front-Bench spokesmen from 10.45 am onwards. If Members wish to catch my eye and speak, will they stand up when I call Guy Opperman?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham 10:26 am, 19th October 2011

Thank you, Mr Owen, for calling me to speak.

The victims in this case are savers, widows and pensioners, who we must not forget and who we are fundamentally elected to fight for. It is definitely in the Government’s interests—is it not?—to encourage proper saving and proper investment. One can use this particular disaster—it is nothing less than that—to encourage proper investment in proper companies.

I am very pleased that, along with other colleagues, I have this opportunity to speak today on an issue that dozens of my constituents whose lives have been irreparably damaged by CF Arch Cru have contacted me about.

I must thank Tom Greatrex for securing this debate. A lot of us have tried to secure such a debate. I also want to thank him because he gave his address in a measured, reasonable, all-party tone. That is welcome, because hon. Members are united—in every part of the country and in every democratic and political process—in their view of the disaster that has occurred.

I must also thank my hon. Friend Alun Cairns, who has campaigned tirelessly on this issue. He has sought debate after debate after debate on this issue and was, frankly, pipped at the post by the might of Scotland in the form of the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, who snuck up the inside rail and secured this debate. However, I know that we are all working together, which is a wonderful thing to see.

Obviously I speak as a constituency MP, but I also speak as someone who, for approximately 15 years, was employed on a repeat basis by Her Majesty’s Government as a prosecutor of fraud trials. I worked for the Attorney-General and the Serious Fraud Office, and I bear the scars of involvement with cases such as Blue Arrow and Guinness, and particularly a scam in relation to a company called Moneywise, which was investigated by the Financial Times. In that case, I spent six long months in Guildford Crown court bringing fraudsters to justice and recovering money. It was another case where people were defrauded by supposedly safe investments and money was taken from them. We successfully brought prosecutions for conspiracy to defraud.

I do not know the inner details of the particular case that we are discussing today, because only those involved, the Financial Services Authority and others have full access to the documentation. It is easy to make glib comments, but, speaking as an informed observer, I would seek the involvement of the Serious Fraud Office. With respect, there seems to be only two choices in relation to official actions and official offences committed here. Either the Minister is appropriately referring this matter for an inquiry under section 14 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 or—frankly—the Serious Fraud Office needs to get off its backside and investigate this matter properly, bringing people who are committing these particular offences to justice. Clearly, there is the potential—I can go no further than that—that criminal offences of conspiracy to defraud have taken place.

An awful lot of questions have been raised, and I do not want to repeat the points that other hon. Members have made, but we come back to the question why an investment advertised as a

“safe and cautious fund—ideal for pension transfer” has so damaged people’s lives. We must move on to the simple question how to stop it happening again.

To deal first with the compensation package, given that the funds were suspended in March 2009, one might have imagined that it would have been put forward a little earlier. The delay by those involved and their dilatory tactics are to their discredit. However, the £54 million package is inadequate. Let us be blunt: Capita is a substantial company. There may be arguments about whether the company in question is limited within the confines of Capita’s many companies, or about the parent company not being responsible for the individual failings of individual people in other lesser companies in the group. Those may be perfectly legitimate comments, and if Capita wants to take that high financial moral tone with us, so be it. However, it needs to grasp that it has a simple choice in this Parliament. Either it provides 100% compensation or it will find that it has few friends in this House. The £54 million is frankly not sufficient. This is not like Equitable Life, because this is not a situation in which a company has run out of money. Capita has not gone bust. To quote one investor who wrote to me:

“The current package is barely a pinprick on Capita’s little finger.”

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I hope that hon. Members will not mind my saying that this calls to mind the troubles of Arthur Andersen, where one problem in one country led to the destruction of a very good business in a number of other countries.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

I endorse those comments. Capita will need to look over its shoulder after today’s debate.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

Does the hon. Gentleman not think, then, that the Government have a role to play in relation to the extraordinary award of contracts to Capita?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

I accept that they have a role to a degree. The hon. Gentleman is being a little naive, because the provision of certain services by a perfectly reputable part of the company is satisfactory, and he is far too intelligent not to know that. However, we must deal with individual mismanagement by parts of the company, which happened in years gone by, and the hon. Gentleman knows that companies have obligations in relation to such matters. The matter can be pursued either as a civil obligation in the High Court or by way of criminal compensation arising out of a prosecution. Alternatively, it can be dealt with under section 14 of the Financial Services Act 2010. However, it is over-simplistic to say that just because the Government provide contracts to an organisation that is performing perfectly satisfactorily in some respects, they cannot be involved in seeking other compensation.

This debate is an opportunity for the Government to give a lead on what they will do, and they need to answer some questions. I want to discuss examples involving a couple of my constituents. The point has been fairly made that the losses have been suffered by people who are not wealthy. We are not standing up for toffs and fat cats, but for people who have lost £1,000, £2,000, £5,000, £10,000 or £15,000— people who have lost their life savings, and who were encouraged to put their money in.

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Conservative, Loughborough

My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument, building on some other powerful speeches. He is right about the people involved, and the same is true of my constituents, who are not wealthy but who were doing the right thing. Our party and all other parties have asked people to make provision for their pension and retirement. Those people were doing the responsible thing, and they had their fingers badly burned. Confidence has been mentioned, and the Government must address that.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

I totally endorse that point, and that is where the Government definitely have a role. They can use the inadequacies of the present case to highlight their intention to come down hard on those who mismanage investments as in this instance, to give investors confidence in other investments in the future. Sadly, that should have been done previously, and such scams and difficulties have been bubbling over for the past 20 years.

My constituent, Mr Ian Robinson, transferred his entire pension pot of £90,000 into Arch Cru on the advice of an independent financial adviser. He thought it was a sensible policy. In 2009, his funds were revalued down to about £55,000; they were then frozen; and the remaining capital was eroded over the next two years.

He will be lucky to get 40% back under the compensation package. Another constituent, who wants to remain nameless, worked all his life and built up a business. He sold it and thought that he and his wife had a successful pension pot of several hundred thousand pounds. They put all of it—savings and pension—into Arch Cru. After the devastating effects of what happened, he and his wife have been living off a state pension and with the current offer of recompense they will be forced to downsize to enable them to live from any capital that is released. They will have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, which they thought was securely invested to provide a gentle but secure return, and they will be lucky to be able to leave anything to their dependants. If my constituent agrees to the package at this stage, he will have less than half the compensation needed to put him and his wife back in the position they were in prior to their investment. In the current climate, we should support such hard-working people.

Much could be said about the dilatoriness of the process, because, as other hon. Members have mentioned, nothing has really happened since suspension in March 2009. I shall briefly discuss Capita. Others have spoken eloquently and forcefully about its inadequacy in its role. One constituent told me:

“This is not just a case of an investment that has underperformed due to the Global Financial Crisis but one where there are serious misgivings in relation to the management and governance of the funds”.

That is certainly how I see the matter—it is potentially a criminal investigation. Capita was paid as trustees to oversee the management of the funds, which we all agree it simply did not do. Therefore why is Capita not fully accountable for the extent of the losses of the people whose money it was managing? Clearly it is vicariously liable and has an obligation.

Hugh Aldous has prepared a report on Capita, and I recommend that anyone who has not taken on board the full level of ineptitude should read it. It is clear from the report, in which Hugh Aldous makes multiple observations, that the net asset values of several of the cells that were invested in were overstated at least from 2007 onwards. He reported that the condition of the physical assets was far worse than

“we reasonably expected and, in some cases, frankly appalling.”

It seems inexplicable that small investors should suffer so severely with an inadequate package.

Several hon. Members have spoken about the compensation package, and the Minister must address two points. Why on earth has a closed offer been made, when it is also time-limited? That is wrong. The Minister must assist hon. Members by giving the reason for that and telling us whether the Government will do anything about it. Everything would change if the Minister were to say that it is an interim offer. If it were an interim offer, so that the victims of the scam could receive the £54 million paid down in the usual way, with the right to continue to take civil action if they wanted to pursue matters further, I would say, “So be it.” However, to tell them that it is a time-limited £54 million offer and they can take it or leave it is wrong.

The FSA has supposedly been making great efforts to ensure that companies can meet their commitments when they fall down. There are regulations to protect consumers. The FSA is a publicly funded body. It exists to protect investors, and it has not done so in this case. It should surely have launched a proper investigation. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan has called for a proper investigation, and I repeat that call. The FSA seems reluctant to admit that Capita has failed in its duty as an authorised corporate director.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance, Belfast East

The hon. Gentleman is making some strong points. Does he agree that in this crisis it is the failure of the regulatory aspect that has caused the biggest ripples in public confidence? People took the FSA’s regulation of the funds and the advice they were given at face value, which created a level of confidence that did not match the confusion about what was happening within the fund. The FSA has not only failed people but caused a crisis in public confidence.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

I endorse the hon. Lady’s comments about the authority.

There are tremendous financial consequences here, but there is also a human one. All hon. Members—I have been here for only 18 months, but others have been here for many years—will have gone through the pain, difficulty and correspondence in relation to Equitable Life. To be fair, this situation is not the same, but it is similar in that constituents have written to me because they have given up. One told me about a retired couple in ill health who have already given up, because

“they have not the energy or the mental resolve to fight this”.

The Minister had an extremely difficult job with Equitable Life, and I applaud the fact that he did the best he could in very difficult circumstances. This matter, however, is far simpler, and I hope that he takes on board the four key points. First, will the inquiry be a section 14 inquiry? Secondly, why is the offer a closed one? Thirdly, why is the offer deadlined and time-limited? Fourthly, does the Minister agree with a large proportion of hon. Members—I say this based on the comments that have been made during the past hour and 11 minutes—that Capita has a simple choice: either it gives 100% compensation, or it is left with no friends in this House?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I shall call the Front-Bench spokespeople at 10.45 am. I now call Duncan Hames.

Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham 10:42 am, 19th October 2011

I shall certainly be brief, Mr Owen, as I, too, look forward to the Minister’s speech about cleaning up the mess of financial scandals that arose long before he took office. I am not alone; it is worth reiterating that we have heard this morning from MPs from six political parties, and 5% of all MPs have turned up for a debate lasting only 90 minutes, knowing full well that barely a fifth of them would get to make speeches. My first point to Capita and all the bodies involved is that there is a lot of interest in this House and that their reputation in all parts of the United Kingdom is therefore at stake. I hope that they do not wish their companies to become the household names that others have in disputes that this House has unfortunately had to deal with.

Officials in the building across the road will have urged the Minister to bat questions away to the Financial Services Authority, and will have suggested that he speak of the FSA’s independence and of how this matter is for that authority and not for the Government.

Our collective presence here this morning will have made it clear to him that the public interest is too strong to accept that. In addition to the complaints about the companies involved, many of our constituents are asking: who regulates the regulators? They do not trust the regulators’ handling of the matter. This morning, we have come here with reasonable questions that have not been answered in our correspondence with the FSA on constituents’ behalf. How did the FSA authorise the fund in the first place? Why did it not respond sooner to the informed criticism of experienced fund managers? Does the scope of the FSA’s investigation extend to questions about its own conduct, and does the review team have the independence to do that effectively? Even clearer are our constituents’ concerns about how the payment deal is being agreed, and about how the FSA is able to bind the Financial Ombudsman Service so securely to Capita’s proposals.

When such questions are being raised about the regulator, it falls to the Minister to reassure Members that he is totally on top of their concerns. I hope that he addresses the plea for a full inquiry that has been made across the House this morning, and I look forward to him throwing his weight behind the demands for a section 14 inquiry.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury) 10:45 am, 19th October 2011

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Tom Greatrex, and to Alun Cairns and other Members, for drawing attention to this exceptionally important and complex issue. It is simply not right that people, many of whom have worked hard on modest incomes and have saved money in what they reasonably thought to be a responsible way, stand to lose significant sums. We welcome the Financial Services Authority’s efforts in securing a compensatory offer from the parties involved, which will be administered through the Capita financial managers, but although up to 70% of the sum invested could be returned to investors via the consumer redress scheme, many will be dissatisfied because the amount falls far short of their original investment.

I want to make five quick points. First, on the unfair constraints on the choices for out-of-pocket investors, there have been reports that the FSA is reluctant to set out a full statement of events surrounding the Arch Cru failure, possibly until after the closure of the redress scheme. I would be grateful if the Minister would agree that that would be an extremely unfortunate state of affairs, as my hon. Friend Angela Smith and Guy Opperman have indicated. The FSA should either set out its understanding and explanation while the redress scheme is extant, or the scheme’s closing date should be extended to allow the full facts to emerge before investors are forced to decide whether to accept the final settlement. Does the Minister agree that that would be reasonable?

Secondly, can the Minister clarify the potential role of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme? The FSA has been brokering the voluntary settlement scheme, but at what point will the option of claiming anything via the FSCS be made clear to investors?

Thirdly, I want to ask about the lessons to be learnt about Capita and the role of the regulators. Irregular practices clearly took place, and an investigation into the regulator’s handling of the Arch Cru scandal is merited. Hon. Friends are pressing the Minister and the Treasury to look into the behaviour of the regulator, and I would be grateful if the Minister could address that in winding up the debate. Did the regulators check Capita’s capabilities? Compliance work is usually done by banks, but the Arch Cru fund was compliance-managed by Capita and, as we have heard, questions have been asked about the adequacy of Capita’s business resourcing and its internal checking procedures for ensuring the thoroughness of its important responsibilities.

Fourthly, we must have tighter regulation of investment fund descriptions, and there is an urgent need to ensure that consumers are protected from exaggerated marketing terms. For instance, do we need clearer rules about the use of terms such as “cautious fund”? The hon. Member for Hexham highlighted the term “ideal for pension transfer”, which goes to the nub of the marketing mispractice involved. “Guaranteed investment,” “absolute returns” and “balanced funds” are all used frequently in investment schemes, but I am not sure that we have the right regulation of the use of marketing arrangements.

Finally, although we should not underestimate the pain, anger and distress that many people justifiably feel, we must consider the messages that this kind of scandal sends out to the public at large. This situation can serve only to undermine people’s confidence in saving for their future, doing the right thing by planning ahead and putting money aside through pensions and investments. Parliamentarians and the Government must consider not only the impact of the scandal on the people directly affected but its repercussions on people’s trust in financial products more widely.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I thank Members for their inventions and for keeping to time. I ask the Minister now to respond.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 10:49 am, 19th October 2011

I congratulate Tom Greatrex on securing this debate and on how he introduced it. Despite a barrage of incoming interventions, he managed to maintain his pace and tone and set out a clear narrative of what happened to Arch Cru. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Alun Cairns on his tenacious pursuit of the matter, as well as the other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate.

I express my sympathy to the many Arch Cru investors who have lost a significant proportion of their savings as a consequence of the events that we are discussing. Regardless of how large or small the investment was, and whether they have lost all their savings or a fraction, they have lost out. It is important to think carefully about the cause and what lessons need to be learned.

As my hon. Friend Duncan Hames rightly predicted, I must add a note of caution about Treasury responsibilities in the matter. We do not have investigative or prosecuting powers of our own. The Financial Services Authority is the independent regulator. I have spoken to its chief executive about Arch Cru and sought further information about the FSA’s investigations and the voluntary compensation package, and I will respond as fully as I can to the points made today. Hon. Members clearly have an appetite for a lot more detail. I understand, as I have the same appetite, but enforcement action is ongoing, so there is a limit to what can be disclosed in the House.

As the hon. Gentleman and others have said, the case is complex and involves multiple layers of responsibility. Many investors will initially have engaged with Arch Cru’s UK open-ended investment companies, or OEICs, through their independent financial advisers, with Cru Investment Management conducting the marketing of the OEICs. The management of the OEICs was then the responsibility of Capita Financial Managers Ltd as authorised corporate directors and of BNY Mellon Trust & Depositary (UK) Ltd and HSBC Bank plc as depositaries. Although the legal form is that Arch Financial Products acted as the delegated investment manager, in substance, it approached Capita and proposed that fund structure.

The OEICs invested principally in more than 22 Guernsey- domiciled incorporated cell companies, which were listed on the Channel Island stock exchange and required to comply with Guernsey regulations. The cell companies had two independent directors. The administrator of the cell companies was regulated by the Guernsey Financial Services Commission and was responsible, among other tasks, for producing valuations for the cell companies, which were made available to the Channel Island stock exchange. Arch was the investment manager for the cell companies and, of course, the OEICs themselves. Both the OEICs and the Guernsey cell companies were independently audited. That complex structure should make it clear that it is not easy to apportion full responsibility to any single player in the matter.

As part of the authorisation process for UK OEICs, the FSA assesses a fund’s proposition before launch and decides whether it complies with the rules. The FSA then reviews the fund’s prospectus and, after authorisation, continues its normal supervisory activity, which includes visits to authorised corporate directors and depositaries and thematic work such as the monitoring of financial promotions. As hon. Members have identified, the FSA does not regulate descriptions of funds, such as “cautious managed”. It is worth reflecting on what “cautious managed” means. It means that a fund invests in a range of assets with a set maximum equity exposure and a minimum exposure to fixed interests and cash. A minimum percentage of assets must also be held in sterling or euro-denominated assets. That describes what such funds should be.

The FSA is not an auditor and does not check underlying investments or the veracity of share prices. That is the responsibility of others. The regulatory regime is not a zero-failure regime, and the FSA conducts risk-based supervision. It does not visit every firm every year; the frequency of visits depends on firms’ risk and impact. If hon. Members reflect on that for a moment, they will expect more resources to be devoted to a big insurer than to an insurance broker on the high street. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the firms involved to ensure that they comply with all the relevant rules.

What did the FSA do in this situation? It has been suggested that the FSA let down investors, but its financial promotions monitoring activity picked up some of the issues with Arch Cru OEICs, which were raised with the parties involved. Crucially, in October 2008, during the course of an ARROW inspection visit, the FSA identified issues with the funds, including the fulfilment of the OEICs’ investment objectives. Those issues were raised with Capita Financial Managers, the authorised corporate director, leading to the suspension of the OEICs in March 2009.

On the payment scheme, it should be clear from my opening remarks that the structure underpinning investment in an Arch Cru fund was complex and multi-layered. The FSA could have pursued a comprehensive package of redress, which would have needed agreement from all the parties involved, some of which were responsible for the management of the funds and some for their sale or promotion. Not all those parties are regulated by the FSA or based in the UK. To have put together such a package would have been time-consuming and complex. The FSA has reached agreement with the three parties responsible for the management of the UK OEICs: Capita, BNY Mellon and HSBC. The package was announced in June 2011, and will pay up to £54 million to investors. The amount of compensation takes into account distributions already made to investors and the remaining value of the funds.

The compensation amount also has an element of proportionality, taking into account the fact that while those three parties share some of the responsibility for the losses, they are not solely responsible. Other parties contributed to the failure, and the FSA is currently considering the positions of those other parties. The pursuit of a voluntary settlement with the three parties allows investors to opt to receive payments by the end of this year rather than having to wait several years for the uncertain outcome of a more complex process, which would include enforcement action against the relevant parties. It is a trade-off. Do we want investors, some of whom invested all their funds in Arch Cru, to receive money sooner or later? A question was asked about time scales. People have until the end of next year to decide whether to opt for the package.

The FSA has required the Financial Ombudsman Service to apply the payment scheme to complaints that it receives, under the provisions of the Financial Services Act 2010, which was introduced by the previous Government and supported by us. The provisions ensure certainty to investors and a consistent regulatory approach between the FOS and the FSA. Without them, the FOS would have to consider individual cases on their own merit rather than applying the same principle to every investor. I will explain what the FOS is bound to.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

No, I will continue. I have three minutes left and more points to make.

The FOS is bound only in respect of complaints made against Capita, HSBC and BNY Mellon. Complaints made to the FOS about other parties to the investment chain, including independent financial advisers, can still be heard by the FOS. The limitation on the FOS applies only to complaints made about the three parties. That is a clear signal to investors that they can make further complaints about other parties. Investors are free to pursue action through the courts and to challenge the IFA who advised them to invest in Arch Cru funds over whether that advice was appropriate. Numerous people have already done so. If they are not satisfied with the IFA’s response, they can go to the FOS. If a complaint has been upheld but the adviser is no longer in business, investors can also complain to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and apply for compensation.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

No, I cannot. I have two minutes left. My hon. Friend and others asked about section 14, which I would like to address; I am sure that he will be grateful if I do.

I have yet to be persuaded that a section 14 inquiry is appropriate. It certainly would not be appropriate to announce one while enforcement action is being taken against any party to the matter. The powers are available where it appears that significant damage has been done to the interests of consumers that might not have occurred but for a serious failure of regulation. It is worth pointing out that the power has never been used. Throughout the life of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, many issues have not been examined.

As I have said, it is not the FSA’s role to ensure that no firm ever fails, to approve the investment strategy of every OEIC operating in the UK or to ensure that all investments are sound. The FSA does not audit or sign off an OEIC’s accounts. That responsibility rests elsewhere. It was the FSA, through its ARROW inspection, that identified the issues in Arch Cru.

It is vital that everyone engaged in the matter—the regulator, industry players, IFAs and others—reflects on the lessons learned. Many issues emerge, including the scheme’s complexity and consumers’ need for better financial education and better-quality advice. We look carefully at every lesson learned from such cases, and that is reflected in our thinking on the operation of the FSA.